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Advancing Obama’s LGBT rights agenda abroad

Todd Larson, USAID, gay news, Washington Blade

Todd Larson (left) is USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

A retired U.N. official who spent two decades with the global body has brought his experience promoting LGBT rights issues to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Todd Larson, who worked in a variety of positions at the U.N. between 1990 and 2010 where he spearheaded efforts to extend domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of U.N. employees, in March became USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. He was also a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Board of Directors between 2007-2013.

Larson’s primary responsibility at USAID is to ensure the agency implements President Obama’s 2011 memorandum that instructed agencies charged with implementing American foreign policy to promote global LGBT rights.

He noted in a 2012 Huffington Post op-ed that highlighted his support of Obama’s efforts to promote global LGBT rights on the eve of his re-election that his partner, who worked for the U.N., died shortly after he began working for the global body.

“In the aftermath I had no official standing to do basic things such as obtain copies of reports describing the circumstances surrounding his death,” wrote Larson. “Though I eventually prevailed, under internal U.N. advances shepherded by the Obama administration, I would not face that challenge today.”

He told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier this month that he learned “how to effect change within a large bureaucracy” through his work at the U.N.

“I don’t find engagement in institutional change daunting,” said Larson. “I find it profoundly satisfying, by virtue of the breadth of favorable impact that will last far longer than I. That which makes my work at USAID a particular pleasure is the fact that I’m not working against the tide. I am, rather, working with a team of committed and experienced folks to guide and focus an institution which is already very committed to LGBT inclusion in how it operates both internally and externally.”

Larson spoke with the Blade roughly a week after National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce had joined the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private partnership that USAID launched in April 2013 designed to support LGBT advocacy groups in developing countries. The initiatives’ first two trainings took place in Colombia last year.

USAID on Monday announced during the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, that it will contribute an additional $503 million to the global fight against HIV/AIDS over the next five years through three public-private partnerships.

“Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for which USAID is lead implementing agency, I am proud that USAID has invested hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the war against the pandemic — much of this has gone to the benefit of key populations,” said Larson.

Larson, who graduated from Carleton College in 1983, spent two years in the West African country of Togo with the Peace Corps. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Washington in 1988.

“When I joined the Peace Corps, fresh out of college and off the farm, it was my first time living and working in the developing world,” Larson told the Blade. “This sounds perhaps Pollyanna-ish, but it was a lesson I needed to learn.”

“People are the same the world over — LGBT or not, in whatever cultural or national setting,” he added. “They all have the same fundamental aspirations: Caring for family, realizing one’s potential, meeting one’s basic needs. This is what motivates all of us.”

Larson told the Blade he feels one of the most important parts of his job at USAID is to “identify the leaders” on the ground in a particular country and “work with them to identify how best to support their communities.”

He said he traveled to Uganda shortly after he joined USAID and spoke with local LGBT rights advocates about how they feel the U.S. should response to a law that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

LGBT advocates in the East African country last month applauded the Obama administration’s decision to impose travel bans on Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

“One should never impose solutions from a distance,” said Larson.

Larson told the Blade that there are “no strings attached” to groups that receive USAID support.

“USAID works to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies,” he said. “USAID recognizes that the inclusion, protection and empowerment of LGBT people is critical, because drawing on the full contributions of the entire population leads to more effective, comprehensive and sustainable development results.”


State Department ‘trying to confirm’ arrest of Nigeria gays

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department says it’s looking into the veracity of reports that gay activists are being arrested in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

The State Department is looking into media reports that authorities in Nigeria are arresting dozens of LGBT activists in the aftermath of passage of an anti-gay law in the country.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said reports of arrests in Nigeria are “very troubling” if true.

“We’re trying to confirm those reports,” Harf said. “I’ve seen them. We don’t know if they’re true or not. If they are true, that would obviously be very troubling. Again, our team is continuing to check on the ground to get new facts to see what’s actually going on.”

According to a report on Tuesday from the Associated Press, human rights activists in Nigeria  claim police are working off a list of 168 suspects — purportedly obtained through torture — to arrest dozens of gay men in the country. A police official reportedly denied any use of torture, and accounts of the number of arrests vary from as low as 11 to as high as 38.

Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel to Human Rights First, said the reports of arrests demonstrate the impact of the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, which was signed last week by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

“This is truly the worst case scenario,” Gaylord said. “When discriminatory bills like this are passed, we are always concerned that they set the stage for violence and ill treatment in society even when they are not enforced. But the fact that this law is being enforced so quickly and forcefully demonstrates the full extent of Nigeria’s human rights crisis.”

Under the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships” are banned as well as membership in LGBT groups. The statute contains a provision allowing punishment of up to 14 years in prison for attempting to enter into a same-sex marriage.

After being unable to answer some questions from the podium on Monday for the Blade regarding the anti-gay law, Harf on Tuesday offered some answers.

For starters, after saying that passage of the law is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations, Harf was able to identify which obligation the law violates: the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. Nigeria joined the 167-party agreement that aims to protect the civil and political rights of individuals in 1993.

“The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act not only prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria; it also includes broadly worded provisions implicating the rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association that are set forth in the ICCPR,” Harf said. “So, when we were talking about international law, that’s what we were referring to.”

Harf also clarified which U.S. officials spoke with officials in Nigeria prior to passage of the anti-gay law, saying they consisted of individuals at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the U.S. consulate general in Lagos and Washington officials. These officials, Harf said, helped Nigerians who support LGBT rights chart a course to “support the LGBT community there and to help Nigerians who are opposed to discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Still, Harf said she didn’t have an answer to a previous inquiry about whether U.S. officials had any knowledge that Jonathan would sign the legislation before he took that action.

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later said the U.S. government has been monitoring the legislation for some time.

“We have been closely monitoring the progress of this law as it moved through the legislative process and have engaged regularly with the [government of Nigeria] and civil society on our concerns about the proposed legislation,” Stevens said.

Additionally, Harf said she didn’t have any announcements about conversations the U.S. would have in the future about the Nigerian government on the anti-gay law, but said the administration would continue to voice concerns given the opportunity.

“One thing I learned to do is not make predictions from the podium about anything,” Harf said. “Like I said, I don’t have anything to announce about any conversations. We regularly raise it. I’ve been very clear from here about our position. If we have any updates, then I’m happy to let you know.”

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke out against the anti-gay law, marking the first statement against the statute by the intergovernmental organization.

“International human rights law and jurisprudence clearly indicate that states have a legal duty to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Pillay said. “Disapproval of homosexuality by the majority on moral or religious grounds does not justify criminalizing or discriminating against LGBT persons.”

Pillay urged the high court in Nigeria to examine the constitutionality of the new law at the next opportunity.

For its part, Harf acknowledged the State Department is concerned that passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria represents a growing trend of anti-gay activity in Africa.

“We are deeply concerned by some of the recent developments we have seen in Africa with respect to human rights of LGBT individuals, including passage of the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ by Uganda’s parliament and also increasing arrest of LGBT individuals in countries, such as Cameroon and Zambia,” Harf said. “Human rights are a cornerstone of our foreign policy; we say this all the time, and we will continue to support the efforts of our human defenders in Africa and across the globe who are working to end discrimination against LGBT persons.”


Understanding Israel in all its complexity

Tel Aviv, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade, gay pride

Tel Aviv gay pride. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)


History matters. Facts matter. Both were tossed to the wind by Pauline Park in a recent op-ed in the Washington Blade, who assailed the American Jewish Committee and its signature Project Interchange program. Without any explanation, she asserted that AJC “is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Nonsense! AJC, of course, is a strong advocate for an Israel that thrives in peace and security, and continues to support a negotiated two-state solution to achieve sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. As a global advocacy organization, AJC has brought that message to the top leaders of many countries, including Arab nations.

But Park’s baseless accusation is the foundation for her criticizing American LGBT community leaders who participated in an educational visit to Israel and the West Bank with AJC’s Project Interchange. For over 30 years, more than 6,000 leaders from across the United States and 84 other countries have participated in Project Interchange’s unique, weeklong educational seminars in Israel.

Project Interchange’s success is rooted in its non-ideological approach. By introducing first-time visitors to a broad range of Israelis, who offer diverse narratives across the political, social and religious spectrum, seminar participants gain an appreciation for Israel as a dynamic diverse society. What’s more, AJC’s Project Interchange participants travel to the West Bank, where they meet with a range of Palestinian leaders, including at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, Israel has challenges like other democratic nations, though Israel’s challenges have special significance given the history of the conflict and its neighborhood. Project Interchange is not afraid to show Israel in all its complexity, “warts and all.” What visitors find is a robust democratic nation, where, among other things, there are freedoms of speech, religion and sexual orientation. Indeed, Tel Aviv was named the No. 1 gay city in the world in a broad survey by and American Airlines.

The LGBT delegation that visited Israel in October fulfilled AJC’s desire to introduce this important segment of American society to Israel. When it comes to understanding Israel, there is simply no substitute for first-hand, on-the-ground experience. The group seized the opportunities to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians in open conversations. As part of their program, the LGBT delegation visited Ramallah, as do other Project Interchange groups, to engage with Palestinian leaders. Regrettably, Palestinian LGBT groups rejected the opportunity to meet with their U.S. counterparts.

Park, however, as a member of the New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, offers a preconceived, politically myopic view of Israel. One has to wonder whether she or any members of her delegation met with, or even expressed a desire to meet with, any mainstream Israelis on her 2012 visit to the region. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder whether her use of the term “occupation” refers to the period since June 1967, following Israel’s war of survival, or to 1948, when Israel was established as an independent country following a UN recommendation.

Let’s remember that a Palestinian state could have been established at the same time. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 divided the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. That was the original two-state solution. But the Arabs rejected that concept. Sixty-six years later the two-state solution is still on the table.

And, let’s recall Israel did not set out to govern the Palestinians. Israel came to rule over Gaza and the West Bank not by choice, but in a defensive war in June 1967, when neighboring Arab states — particularly Egypt and Syria — threatened time and again to overrun and destroy the young country.

Israel has tried relentlessly to find negotiating partners to exchange land for peace. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994. But the Palestinian leadership rebuffed Israel’s substantial peace offers in 2000, in 2001 and again in 2008. These historical facts are ignored by Park, her organization and other supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) anti-Israel movement, which at its core dismisses Israel’s right to exist.

Our utmost hope is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the key assistance of the U.S., will yield an enduring agreement. Both peoples deserve to live in peace and security. Tellingly, Park and her organization don’t seem to share the same goals for one of those peoples.

Stuart Kurlander is a board member of AJC Washington; Alan Ronkin is executive director of AJC’s Washington regional office.


U.N. report criticizes Vatican over anti-gay rhetoric, sex abuse

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A U.N. committee has sharply criticized the Vatican over its opposition to homosexuality and other issues.

“The committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples,” said the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in a report it released on Wednesday.

The committee described Pope Francis’ statement last July that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized as “progressive” and “positive.” The U.N. body nevertheless urged the Catholic Church to address discrimination against gay and lesbian children and those born to unmarried parents.

“The committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalization of homosexuality,” reads the report.

The report also criticized the Vatican over its response to the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” it said.

The committee also criticized the Holy See over its ongoing opposition to abortion, access to contraception and information about sexual and reproductive health.

The Associated Press reported that Archbishop Silvano Tomasi on Wednesday said LGBT advocacy groups and those who back marriage rights for same-sex couples “reinforced an ideological line” with the committee.

The report’s release comes against the backdrop of Francis’ ongoing efforts to temper the Vatican’s rhetoric against homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other social issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” said Francis during an extensive interview that La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, published last September. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 kissed and washed the feet of 12 people with AIDS during a visit to a local hospice. He also spearheaded opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.

Fernández sharply criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio after he categorized the gay nuptials measure as a “demonic plan” and called for a “holy war” against it.

Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, on Twitter questioned what the Advocate — which named Francis as their 2013 person of the year — and Rolling Stone — which placed him on the cover of the magazine’s Jan. 29 issue — would say “about their idol the pope after the U.N.’s definitive report about sexual abuse and cover-up”

“Beyond the nice declarations about sexual diversity, Francis and the Vatican cannot continue turning their backs to the reality that it has affected the lives of millions of boys and girls around the world,” Paulón told the Washington Blade from New York where he and six other Latin American LGBT rights advocates are on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip. “They clearly demonstrate a network of guaranteed impunity from senior Vatican officials (including the pope) for those criminals.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., also welcomed the U.N. report.

“Many government leaders around the world and many Catholics in the pews have expressed the opinions that report articulated so clearly that the Vatican’s negative messages against LGBT people cause violence, harm and in some cases death,” he said.

DeBernardo added he expects Francis will respond to the report because “a prestigious organization like the U.N. puts weight behind that message.”


Ban Ki-moon highlights LGBT rights during Sochi speech

Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday noted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter “enshrines” the International Olympic Committee’s “opposition to any form of discrimination.” (Photo courtesy of All Out)

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for an end to anti-LGBT discrimination and violence during a speech in Sochi, Russia, that coincided the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban during remarks he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ban did not specifically reference Russia’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors during his speech. He noted “many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice.”

“I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC’s opposition to any form of discrimination,” said Ban.

Ban’s comments come nearly two months after the U.N. used the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to highlight efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated a Dec. 10 panel at the U.N. on which retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic sat. Singer Melissa Etheridge is among those who also attended the event.

The U.N. last July announced its “Free and Equal” campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who back the effort.

“The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘Free and Equal’ campaign,” said Ban in Sochi. “I look forward to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.”


U.N. says anti-gay Nigerian law could hurt health

Nigeria, Nigerian embassy, protest, gay news, Washington Blade, U.N.

(Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

ABUJA, Nigeria — The U.N. human rights chief expressed concern last week that Nigeria’s new anti-gay law may have negative consequences on public health there, the AP reports. Navi Pillay says the law could hinder government, civil and religious groups from delivering HIV education and preventative care and deter gay and transgender people from seeking services.

She told Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke at a meeting on March 13 that the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act violates fundamental human rights and the Nigerian constitution.

Adoke said the laws “do not criminalize individual sexual orientation.” He indicated there would be no consideration for Pillay’s call for a moratorium on prosecutions, the AP said.

The minister said a poll showed 92 percent of Nigerians support the law. It further criminalizes homosexuality as well as people working in HIV/AIDS programs for gays, who have a much higher infection rate, the article said.


Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.


Bollywood star promotes LGBT rights

Celina Jaitly, United Nations, gay news, Washington Blade

Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly appears in a U.N. campaign designed to promote LGBT rights in India. (Photo courtesy of the U.N.)

A U.N. campaign that promotes LGBT rights last week debuted a new video that stars Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly.

The two-and-a-half minute video features a man who brings his “special friend” to meet his family. They are shocked when he and his partner step out of the car, but the family matriarch embraces them and welcomes them into her home.

“As long as in the world of love two people want to be with each other,” Jaitly sings.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights debuted the video that contains a remixed version of the 1979 Bollywood song, “Uthe Sab Ke Kadam”, during a Mumbai press conference in April 30 with Indian transgender rights advocate Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, actor Imran Khan and others. It is part of the “Free & Equal” campaign the U.N. launched last July in South Africa.

“Bollywood represents Indian culture, which has always been larger than life, which is very colorful,” Jaitly told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from New York. “In Bollywood whenever we want to express something — especially when we talk about love, even if we talk about a mother expressing love to her child, she does it through a song. Everything is done through music.”

The video has had more than 240,000 views since it’s April 30 debut.

“Music has the power to move people,” Jaitly told the Blade. “Music is the universal language which would be understood by all and the video is living proof of it. People from all over the world who don’t have anything to do with India have truly appreciated it.”

Jaitly, who is a former Miss India, noted she has been an LGBT rights advocate in India for a decade — speaking out against Section 377 of the Indian penal code that criminalizes homosexuality. She has also advocated for the extension of rights to transgender Indians and hijras and eunuchs who do not identify as either male or female.

“This is just not something new that I just took up,” Jaitly told the Blade as she discussed why she agreed to take part in the campaign. “I just thought of it as a platform to amplify my voice.”

Jaitly spoke with the Blade two weeks after the Indian Supreme Court said it would consider an HIV/AIDS service organization’s motion to reconsider a controversial ruling late last year that recriminalized homosexuality in the world’s second most populated country.

Jaitly noted Indians publicly declared their sexual orientation and came out in the workplace after the Delhi High Court in 2009 struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

“It was a great day in history for the LGBT community in India because they were no longer criminals,” she told the Blade. “Now it is really a shocking and rather a terrible threshold of life for people. It’s not easy at all for the LGBT community in India at the moment because legally speaking they are all criminals.”

The India Supreme Court on April 15 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

The decision orders state officials, the federal government in New Delhi and their various agencies to combat anti-trans discrimination in the world’s second most populated country and include trans Indians in social welfare and other state-run programs. The ruling also includes hijras and eunuchs in the definition of trans.

These feature prominently in Hindu mythology and religious texts, but Indian society has largely marginalized them.

“The transgender or the eunuch community of India has suffered over many years,” Jaitly told the Blade. “Finally after all these years the government has recognized them and given them a third gendered status.”

She further described the decision as “wonderful,” but said the ruling that recriminalized homosexuality “totally contradicts” it.

“While a third gender can enjoy the third gender status, they probably would be criminals if they were to have a personal relationship with anyone,” said Jaitly. “It is a contradiction of each other.”

Jaitly told the Blade the “third gender” ruling has renewed hope that Indian judges or parliamentarians will at least consider legal status for gays and lesbians.

She acknowledged the last decade has proven difficult for the country’s LGBT rights advocates. Jaitly said during a U.N. press conference on Monday that she and her children have received threats because of her advocacy as the Associated Press reported.

“It’s been a ride of agonies and ecstasies over the past 10 years,” Jaitly told the Blade. “It’s not been an easy ride.”


Colombian vice president discusses LGBT rights at U.N.

Angelino Garzón, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón (Photo by Neil Palmer; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón on Wednesday discussed his country’s LGBT rights record during a meeting at the U.N. in New York.

Charles Radcliffe, senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Washington Blade that he and Garzón spoke about the progress he said the South American nation has made towards LGBT rights in a “really committed way.” He said the Colombian vice president also highlighted “the need for global action to push all governments to do more.”

“It was an excellent meeting,” Radcliffe told the Blade.

Garzón has met with LGBT advocates on numerous occasions since taking office in 2010.

Lawmakers in the South American country in 2011 passed an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation. Garzón the following year announced a new strategy on behalf of the Colombian government designed to improve the way authorities investigate anti-LGBT crimes.

“We live in a democracy, therefore we must respect human rights,” said Garzón during the 2012 announcement. “We cannot talk about human rights if we do not respect the LGBTI community.”

The Colombian Constitutional Court has extended property, social security and other rights to same-sex couples. The tribunal in 2009 ruled gays and lesbians who live together must receive the same rights that unmarried heterosexual couples receive under Colombian law.

Colombia is among the countries that helped secure passage of the U.N.’s first-ever resolution in support of LGBT rights in 2011.

Former Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano in March became the first out person elected to the South American country’s Congress. She is among those who attended two Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute trainings designed to teach Colombian LGBT rights advocates how to become more involved in their country’s political process that took place in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and Cartagena last year.

Garzón’s office did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

He and Radcliffe met slightly more than a week after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples ahead of the first round of the country’s presidential election that took place on May 25.

The Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate in April 2013 overwhelmingly rejected a same-sex marriage measure.

A handful of gay couples in Bogotá and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law and the New York City Bar Association last month filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in a case brought by two gay couples challenging Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their marriages.

Dr. Zayuri Tibaduiza, an advisor to Garzón, told the Blade last May during an interview in Bogotá the government respects both the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the Senate’s vote against the same-sex marriage bill. LGBT advocates in the South American country have repeatedly criticized Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its silence during the same-sex marriage debate.

Garzón, who is slated to leave office in August, said before the Constitutional Court’s deadline that judges and notaries should not refuse to formally recognize the relationships of same-sex couples because of “conscientious objections.”

“One cannot govern the state by conscientious objection,” he said as El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, reported. “When one is a public servant, he has to comply with the law even if he does not agree with it.”

Colombian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken over the last year have indicated discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in particular remain pervasive in many parts of the country.

Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT advocacy group that works along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, told the Blade last May during an interview at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute’s Bogotá training that trans people with whom his organization works face homelessness because of anti-trans violence and discrimination. He said life for LGBT Colombians who live outside the capital remains difficult because they lack visibility and support from local officials.

“We have not found a government that will help us address these goals,” Castañeda told the Blade.

Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman appointed by Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro in 2012 to run the city’s social welfare agency, acknowledged during a panel that took place before the first Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute training in Colombia that discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment and education remains a challenge. She nevertheless stressed that “bit by bit” people are growing more comfortable with trans people as they become more visible in Colombia.

“In this moment I feel more empowered,” said Piñeros. “I am allowed to be an equal person. It can be done because I believe it.”


Ugandan foreign minister elected president of U.N. General Assembly

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates continue to criticize the election of Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa as president of the U.N. General Assembly (Image public domain)

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa continues to face questions and criticism from LGBT rights advocates and their supporters after his unanimous election as president of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported that Kutesa has close ties to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The news agency notes that Kutesa’s daughter is married to the Ugandan president’s son.

Kutesa has also faced corruption and bribery allegations, as the AP reported.

Marianne Møllmann, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Blade that Kutesa’s role as president of the U.N. General Assembly once he officially takes office in September is to “shepherd the assembly through a year of priorities, with respect for the U.N. Charter and the guiding principles of the organization.” She noted 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference that focused on the expansion of rights to women around the world.

“Sam Kutesa will not be able to help the General Assembly do its job without dealing with the damaging gender stereotypes that fuel homophobia and transphobia,” Møllman told the Blade. “We wish him the best of luck, and certainly will be most willing to support him in that endeavor.”

New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both criticized Kutesa’s election. The Human Rights Campaign urged Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss Uganda’s LGBT rights record with Kutesa during their meeting earlier on Thursday.

The State Department did not immediately tell the Blade whether Kerry raised the issue during his meeting with Kutesa. Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters during her daily press briefing on Thursday that it “would certainly be a disappointing step” if Uganda pursued its “public anti-gay agenda” at the U.N.

“We have been clear about our views on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act,” said Psaki. “We believe it undermines human rights and human dignity for all persons in Uganda, and certainly if that were to be taken to a larger scale that would be greatly concerning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power also specifically highlighted LGBT rights rights in her statement responding to Kutesa’s election.

“The U.N. Charter places respect for human rights and dignity at its core, and it is the job of the General Assembly — and its president — to uphold these principles,” said Power. “At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent. In the face of these challenges, all of us working in and at the United Nations should recommit to vigorously defending these core principles.”

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic in the East African country. Kampala in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

The U.S. and a number of European countries cut aid to Uganda in response to Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The World Bank initially delayed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system, but Kampala eventually received the funds.

LGBT rights advocates and HIV/AIDS service providers have come under increased pressure from Ugandan authorities since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law.

Police in April raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala it said recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” Nikki Mawanda, a trans Ugandan advocate, told the Blade during an interview a few weeks later that anti-LGBT discrimination and violence has increased since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“It looks like the community-at-large has taken on the role of doing vigilante [justice,]” he said. “Since the law was signed on the 24th of February, people felt that they should implement the law even before it was gazetted.”

Museveni has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and other donor countries over their decision to cut aid.

A Ugandan government spokesperson did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the controversy surrounding Kutesa’s election as president of the U.N. General Assembly.

“I’m not homophobic,” Kutesa told reporters after his election as the AP reported. “I believe that I’m (the right) person to lead this organization for the next session.”

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the last year has repeatedly spoken out against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence — including in a speech he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting in Sochi, Russia, that took place a day before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins are among those who took part in a panel on homophobia and transphobia sports that took place at the U.N. last December on the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.N. last July launched a global LGBT rights campaign that features Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and other celebrities.